Published: March 6th 2011March 4th 2011
Back together again.
Dear Blog Readers,
Last week’s blog can only be described as material for toilet reading, so I feel that this blog should start where we left off. I’ve not commented much about the toilet situation in Korea for two reasons. Firstly, they really aren’t that interesting. Secondly, I’ve experienced some of the worst toilets in India so the initial culture shock which would normally hit me upon first site of a squatter has become obsolete. However, I should now make some sort of comment. Like everywhere in Asia, it is not common to have toilet paper so you have to remember to bring your own. This means having the daunting task of predicting
the amount of toilet paper you are about to us. Risks cannot be taken. Furthermore, there are squatters, and nobody really knows which way you are supposed to face. However, on a positive note, the Western style toilets are plentiful and the public toilets are more or less clean and hygienic. Thus far, I haven’t seen rows of men happily urinating in public against a faecally-smeared tiled wall such as those sidelining the main street into the centre of Jaipur.
The toilet seat on the Western
Poetry in the toilets, analysed and marked.
toilets is also huge and has a multitude of buttons and gadgets at its side. I haven’t dared touch this thing yet for fear of being sprayed by my own excrement. I also get extremely nervous because when you sit down it starts purring like a leopard about to kill its prey. Luckily, this feeling of impending doom means that in about 20 seconds you will have a beautifully heated seat. Finally, I was walking past the women’s toilets at school the other day and the door was open. As I walked past, out of the corner of my eye was something very odd. I had to do a double take. Then a triple take to check that nobody had seen me inadvertently look inside the women’s toilets. But to my amazement, I was shocked to see that the women’s toilets have urinals in them!? Oh Korea. You never cease to amaze me.
Bemused, I walked home past the hospital. I was warned that if I ever needed to go to hospital whilst in Boeun that I should stress to go to the one in the centre of town and not the one near my school. The psychiatric hospital
It turns skin's age back.
is separated by the main road into the school by a small green fence and it regularly has patients sitting outside. Normally they are unresponsive, but on this occasion, one man was jumping up and perched over the fence shouting “Hello!!” and waving manically. I replied in a less enthusiastic, but still gracious for his English attempt, manner.
On Friday we had a farewell party for the teachers who were leaving the school. There were quite a few going and I really enjoy our staff gatherings so I was looking forward to it. Laura had gone bowling with the other foreigners. I may have commented before about Laura’s bowling ‘technique’ but I feel that it does need reiterating. Not only has she once got concussion after a bowling related accident, she has also managed to bowl a ball down the wrong lane. Consequently, I wasn’t surprised when I found out that they had been told off for not following the Korean bowling etiquette. They take things seriously here! Laura also claimed to have a ‘fan club’ of students behind her, who I can only assume were videoing her bowling attempts and waiting to send it into Korea’s Funniest Home
Everybody in Korea is out to shop on a Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, I was eating the best part of an entire herd of pigs in the form of samgyeopsal before going to a bar for some drinks. I got a cup of tea, the other teachers got ice cream, fruit, milkshakes, etc. – it was that sort of a get together. The other teachers tried their English and it was good fun. The Principal was discussing the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and commenting about the use of social networking sites. He talked about Facebook and “Twatter” which got a chuckle from me. After I’d got home, Laura and co were just finishing bowling and moving on for drinks. I’d just met the new native teacher and we decided to join them. As I walked up the stairs, I realised we were going to the same bar as I’d just been for cups of tea, milkshakes and fruit. I feel it was simply adding to cementing my reputation as Boeun’s biggest party animal.
The biggest news in Boeun at the moment is the imminent arrival of a Baskin Robbins on the main street. Laura, and now most of the foreign teachers, have circled 9th March onto their
These were supposed to be worn by men.
calendars for the grand opening. I’ve coined it D-Day or Diet-Day to coincide with the inevitable consumption of calories. Calorifically, I’ve persisted with going to the gym. I’ve gone a couple of times since the last blog. My next door neighbour, Leonard, was a personal trainer and put me through my paces and showed me a good routine for using the weights. I couldn’t decide whether it was more embarrassing for me or for Leonard to be seen with me. There I was struggling with a bright pink 5kg weight as he bench presses twice my body weight with ease. Laura nearly fell off her treadmill laughing.
Laura’s been single-handedly improving the Korean economy with the abundance of G-Market purchases flying out of her account. However, my favourite item this week were the bright pink fluffy shorts. What’s even better is that they are meant to be for boys!
I haven’t been playing tennis much recently because of the Arctic like conditions (not that the weather actually stops Koreans playing tennis). Luckily, I’ve been keeping in touch with Tim who is a Korean English teacher who also plays at the same club, and inevitably, has become my translator.
Shopping in Myeongdong. The owner of the stall didn't seem that interested.
Tim is also the husband of Mrs Yoon, the Chinese teacher at my main school. At the farewell party, Mrs Yoon invited Laura and I round to their house for some food which we accepted graciously. I was looking forward to it as we haven’t been to a Korean’s house yet and Tim said that his wife’s cooking was the best in Boeun. We weren’t disappointed either! She rustled up an amazing bulgogi and chapjae which tasted great and all the usual side dishes. We sat on the floor and ate at a low table and everything was great.
Laura and I also realised that our level of Korean was akin to a 4 year old Korean. Mr and Mrs Yoon’s two children who are incredibly adorable and cute were busy reading books and the walls were covered in flash cards containing the Korean and English words for ‘milk’, ‘camera’ and ‘waste basket bin’, which I think is a rubbish bin. Unfortunately we weren’t there long enough to teach them any swear words.
On Monday morning there was a loudspeaker barking out Korean at some unearthly time in the morning. I could only assume that we were either
Tucked away in the corner.
at war with North Korea or the strawberries were on sale. Luckily it was the latter and we celebrated by having chocolate fondue later in the evening. This was after a delicious galbi meal as Carrie, Sunny, Laura and I wished Sunny good luck as she starts her new teaching job in Cheongju. As we settled in for the evening, we heard another announcement. This time it was inside
our apartment. We have a speaker system installed in our apartments where the Gukdong Chiefs read out messages. This one was brilliant though because I think the guy accidently knocked the switch and he was clearly inebriated. His slurred speech before seemingly realising he was broadcasting to every flat in the block was superb.
The Koreans love their ceremonies. On Wednesday we had the Opening Ceremony and then on Thursday we had the Opening Ceremony Part Deux: The Return Of The First Graders. Wednesday’s affair was reasonably short but still included the mandatory national anthem, bowing and speeches from various members of staff. Thursday’s ceremony was on a much grander scale and included visiting parents in the back of the hall. Somebody had obviously said something to the students regarding
You wouldn't see that in Boeun!
the national anthem. Their previous attempt was lacklustre but this time they were absolutely belting it out. One student in particular was really going for it much to the amusement of those who could hear him – which was about a 2km radius zone. The new first graders were sandwiched between the second and third graders. If this wasn’t terrifying enough, they were goaded into turning and bowing to each grade on numerous occasions.
My first lessons for the semester begun on Friday. Since Mr Shin has now left for Cheongju, I am now co-teaching with Mr Oh. He is famous for such memorable moments as drawing me a diagram to eat steamed pork with kimchi with the token phrase of consideration, “You live like a monk” written above it. The man is a hero in the eyes on the students and they were really surprised to see him back at school. His teaching style is very different compared to my other co-teachers but I thought it was really effective and kept everybody engaged. Rather than make a flash PPT, he’s more happy to just stand and converse with the students for 45 minutes. At first, I was
On the lash.
really daunted by this and worried I wouldn’t be able to keep the concentration going but it actually worked really well. I heard every student speak at least once, and the respect that Mr Oh has gained from the students was noticeable.
Like many new teachers, our first lesson was letting the students choose English names. I’ve had some classics in the past such as Zero and Moisture. I put a list on the board of names that they could use. Obviously, I slipped in a few classics such as Ivor, Ulysses and Snoop. Unfortunately, none of them took the bait; instead, they went for much better. In Grade 3, I now have the pleasure of teaching students with names such as Moose, Homer, Winston, and my personal favourite, Colonel Gaddafi.
We also talked about the meaning behind surnames. For example, the ‘Taylor’ family name has a tradition of clothes making, the ‘Smith’ family name comes from Blacksmiths, etc. Mr Oh then came up with a nugget of gold when he told the class that ‘Shakespere’ comes from warriors who would violently shake their speers at opposition. I think the students bought it.
On Saturday we went
Standing up for Taio Cruz.
to Seoul to see our friend Sabrina who has joined EPIK for the February intake. It was great to see her, but a bit surreal because it felt just like being back in England. She was one of the last people we saw before coming out to Korea too and it really felt like 6 months had flown by in the blink of an eye. We went to Mr Pizza for lunch washed down with a drink at Mr Coffee followed by visiting Mr I Don’t Need Anymore Clothes But I Should Get Some Anyway Just In Case. Laura and Sabrina were in their element. I thumbed through the 8 items of men’s clothing in Forever 21 before going to sit outside and wait for them to thumb through their 88,888 items of women’s clothing.
After about 25 minutes of waiting I heard a woman say, “Teacher?” Strangely, Mr Shin told me about a week ago that if I don’t know somebody in Korea but need their help then calling them ‘Teacher’ is a sign of respect and not uncommon. I got chatting to a woman who was finishing off her law degree and had fantastic English. She said
Ridiculously fast internet.
she loved London and the film Notting Hill. She said I looked like Hugh Grant so I can only assume that she was very short sighted so at least we had something in common.
To carry on the toilet themed blog, we then visited Itaewon. Sabrina’s EPIK friends were having their first curfew-free evening of merriment in the ‘Irish’ Pub that we visited when we were at Orientation. It was a very bizarre experience. We walked up the stairs and were greeted by a room filled with twenty times more foreigners then there are in the whole of Boeun. Each Waygook had a turn around at some point and locked eyes on us. They then all were either thinking, or turned to their friend, to check who we were and if we’d been on their Orientation and they had completely ignored us for 10 days. We thought we should try and play along with it and see if we could instigate an awkward conversation. A couple of people actually came up and said Hi thinking that they’d seen us before. Cringe City.
The first couple we got chatting to were from New Zealand. Our initial line of enquiry,
The model is on the right hand side.
“Do you know Gavin Sinclair?” was greeted with a muted response. Completely unreasonably, we liked them a little bit less because of it. We then found the only available seats in the Pub which were tucked away in the corner. We also completely and wholeheartedly understood that these foreigners have just spent 10 days having to be ridiculously nice to everybody and introduce themselves a billion times to strangers. The last thing they want to do now is start trying to make friends with us for an evening. However, it gave us time to sit back and enjoy the spectacle in front of us. Let me picture the scene…
The ‘main’ group sat just in front of us. The loud American was standing up threatening to pull his trousers down whilst the twenty-something sat next to him kept trying to make other people perform sexually inappropriate positions with himself. Here comes another round of the drinking game ‘threes’ with the added twist of doing it shrugging your shoulders. Drink! Drink! Drink! As the birthday boy downs another pint of (s)Hite beer. Up the stairs marches a jock in a striped jumper, chest in the air, the man knows he’s
It will improve your skin.
a hero. “Alright Knobheads!!!” he barks to his disciples, “Waaaaheyy!” comes the response. He sits down next to sexually inappropriate twenty-something and the banter continues but secretly they’re crying inside at the prospect of teacher 35 middle school boys on Monday morning.
The table next to them is surrounded by a clique of four girls who are visually dressing down every soul in the room. They will fit right in in Korea I thought. They are caught off guard by the visually stunning man that has just entered the room casually wearing a suit. I could almost hear the screams from the High School girls just from his aura. The three big guys in the centre of the room look menacing enough and checking out the talent in the room, but strangely, are all adorning the same ‘Thinker’ position. A couple of single Korean girls at the side scout the room hoping for their next catch from this evening’s haul of foreigners.
Two bouncer-looking men have command of the darts board and nobody will dare reclaim the darts off them. They take an uncomfortable amount of time to subtract 37 from 501 but nobody bats an eyelid. The surrounding onlookers subconsciously agree that they do a better job of looking like darts players than playing like them. A man who looks as stereotypically Welsh as could possibly be joins the main group. We ask Sabrina who confirms his nationality but disappoints us that his name is Dave and not Gethin. A Taio Cruz track blares out of the speaker above us at an uncomfortably high volume. The main group stand up in unison and being dancing on the tables and chairs. The over ambitious blonde slips and falls as though the ground had turned to black ice. The Korean barmaids turn to each other and glare worryingly into each others eyes as to what to do in this situation. We think it's an appropriate time to leave. Maybe we’ve been in Boeun too long, but I felt more of an outsider in a room full of foriegners. Your brain makes you think that because you share the same language, this will mean you will connect and hit it off instantly with complete strangers.
By night, Itaewon prides itself on being the heart and soul of Korean nightlife. I beg to differ. It’s one of the most horrific places I’ve been in Korea, and there is simply one reason for this, it’s full of foreigners. It’s the only place in Korea that I’ve felt unsafe and on our way to trying to find a motel for the night, the streets were lined with grotesque middle aged balding men grabbing hold of dead-behind-the-eyes Korean women. Clubs were blaring out rubbish music and taxi drivers were refusing to acknowledge that Mangu Subway Station existed even though we were showing them it on a Seoul Subway Map.
Luckily, one taxi driver did stop for us after our motel hunt in Itaewon proved fruitless. A 13km taxi ride only cost about £6 and the taxi driver was particularly pleasant. He over-used the word “powerful” but used in it in all the correct places. “Do you know Manchester United and Ji Sung Park?” I replied with, “Not personally” but I don’t think it translated. He loved Steven Gerrard because his short passing was powerful, he loved the Emirates Stadium because it is a powerful stadium and he loved Sunderland because the red, black and white colour of their strip was very powerful. We moved onto England’s performance in the 2010 World Cup, and all he had to say was, “Oh my God!” I agreed, we didn’t have a particularly powerful performance.
We found a cheap motel and woke up for bacon and egg butties courtesy of Sabrina who went out for her first norraebang experience whilst we were trapping around Itaewon. After a bit of shopping in Insadong we parted ways and got on the subway. A drunk man left his glasses on the chair. An ajumma comes over and picks them up. Even though she doesn’t wear glasses, she puts them on, takes them off, cleans them and puts them in her pocket. We were told at Orientation six months ago that Koreans will rarely steal and that wallets and phones have been found after leaving them on park benches hours after accidently leaving them there. Well I’ve seen ajumma theft first hand. What a pack of lies!
Tink and Laura